The lasting legacy is her stoic determination that redefined what it takes to be a role model in a society with deep-rooted patriarchy
No sporting icon in India has embodied women’s empowerment more than Sania Mirza. It's only fitting that her storied Grand Slam run in one of the few truly global sports culminated with her four-year-old son watching from the stands of the colossal Rod Laver Tennis Arena in Melbourne, the same venue where she served notice of her precocious talent as a teenager in 2005.
Sania reached dizzy heights for on-court exploits - winning six Grand Slams, 43 doubles trophies with 17 different partners, remaining the World No.1 doubles player for 91 weeks and surpassing $1 million in career earnings — but the lasting legacy is her stoic determination that redefined what it takes to be a role model in a society with deep-rooted patriarchy. A rare outlier and one of the most-scrutinised Indian sportspersons, she had to defy life threats, fatwas and 'anti-national' jibes before achieving many a first.
The length of her skirt became a raging debate, Muslim clerics issued fatwas and her patriotism was questioned for marrying Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, but never did she shy away from voicing her opinion on subjects that many considered taboo. Phenomenal was her transformation from a shy girl to a wonder woman who inspired many girls to take up the racquet sport.
Her booming forehand, considered one of the best on Tour, hasn’t lost its sting and it was on full display at the Australian Open mixed doubles final. Clutching the runners-up trophy, Sania turned emotional in front of a mix and broke down in tears, a rare sighting of a woman who remained a symbol of strength and perseverance during her two-decade professional journey.
Not only Indian tennis but all Indian women would be thankful to her for showing the way as a role model, always taking the positive in life and never being cowed down, either by critics or religious zealots. She carried on with her tennis as a mother, proving nothing is indomitable in front of the power of womanhood.